N.C. States Russell Wilson scores a touchdown, starting a Wolfpack comeback.
  • (Photo by Rob Rowe)
  • N.C. State’s Russell Wilson scores a touchdown, starting a Wolfpack comeback.

CARTER-FINLEY STADIUM N.C. State plays one of its biggest football games in a very long time tonight as Florida State visits the Wolfpack’s jam-packed house.

If the Wolfpack can win its remaining five games, it will win the Atlantic Division and play in the ACC Championship Game on Dec. 4 in Charlotte.

If the No. 16 Seminoles win, NCSU, which hasn’t won in the series since 2006, can only hope to finish up a good season on a strong note.

Plenty of bowl scouts are here, as representatives of the Orange, Chick-Fil-A, Champs Sports and Sun Bowls are in a press box which has never been as packed.

Somewhere in the house is former Wolfpack head coach and long-time Seminoles assistant Chuck Amato, seen wearing a custom-made polo shirt with half of it in Wolfpack Red and the other half in Seminole maroon.

And it turns out to be a great night to be a Wolfpacker, as the home team scores in the last three minutes and hangs on for a 28-24 win.

Christian Ponder goes horizontal to avoid being sacked into the backfield.
  • (Photo by Rob Rowe)
  • Christian Ponder goes horizontal to avoid being sacked.

The Wolfpack gets onto the board the first time it has the ball, going 51 yards in 12 plays with Russell Wilson going in from a yard out at 7:55 of the quarter. Josh Czajkowski’s kick makes it 7-0.

FSU ties the score with 7:12 left in the half when Christian Ponder scores from three yards out to complete an eight-play, 75-yard drive and Dustin Hopkins adds the boot. The officials’ decision on the field was overturned, as the replay judge determined that when Ponder was airborne and his right hand holding the ball hit the pylon, he was neither yet down nor out of bounds.

The Seminoles quickly get another chance, when the Wolfpack’s Dean Haynes fumbles on the next play from scrimmage and FSU’s Kendall Smith recovers at the NCSU 18. Five plays later Ponder goes in from two yards out, and Hopkins’ boot makes it 14-7 at 5:03. Haynes has a “possible concussion” and isn’t coming back tonight.

FSU makes it 21-7 at halftime, as Ponder hits Willie Haulstead from 11 yards out to complete an eight-play, 72-yard march with 46.4 seconds left in the half. Hopkins kicks.

The Wolfpack fights back, again scoring on its first drive following the kickoff. NCSU goes 68 yards in 13 plays with Wilson going in from 10 yards out and Czajkowski adding the boot to make it 21-14 with 10:00 left in the third.

And the Wolfpack gets a sudden change with 9:02 left in the third, as Ponder is sacked and fumbles with J.R. Sweezy on the recovery at the Seminoles’ 22. Three plays later Wilson goes 20 yards up the middle for the score, and Czajkowski’s kick ties the score at the 7:42 mark.

The Seminoles get the lead again with 9:07 left, as Hopkins boots a 31-yard field goal that completes a nine-play, 51-yard march.

But it’s certainly not over. The Wolfpack comes back to take the lead with 2:40 left when, on the fourth attempt from the FSU 1 — after Coach Tom O’Brien finally decides not to go for the field goal — Wilson finds George Bryan open near the back of the end zone to complete the 13-play, 70-yard drive. Czajkowski’s try makes it 28-24.

Then come the defensive heroics. FSU has almost no trouble driving from its own 29 to the Wolfpack 4, but NCSU comes up with its biggest defensive play in the careers of any current player as Ponder fumbles after another sack and Nate Irving recovers.

Wilson has a dream game, completing 18 of 28 passes for 178 yards and the touchdown with one interception, also carrying 17 times for 69 yards and his three touchdowns. Mustafa Greene adds 76 yards on 17 carries.

Ponder completes 17 of 28 for 196 yards and the one touchdown, rushing for the two scores as well. Ty Jones carries 10 times for 108 yards for FSU, while Kendall Smith is in on a whopping 16 tackles to go along with his fumble recovery.

They said it …

N.C. State coach Tom O’Brien: “Just another day at Carter-Finley, huh? But I’ll tell you what, that was a great effort. We got ourselves a little discombobulated after the fumble in the first half and got on our heels, but certainly coming out in the third period and playing the way we did and getting the touchdown, we talked about how they got a turnover (in the first half) and we didn’t.

“You have to give Florida State credit, they came back, too. Both of us ended up throwing the same pass at the end of the game. We were able to complete ours and they didn’t. That was the difference in the game.”

Florida State coach Jimbo Fisher: “.”

Wilson: “We definitely wanted to go for it (on fourth down) as a team, but it was the coaches’ decision and I feel like they made the right decision. We were at home and on the one-yard line and we had to get it in. (The opening to Bryan) was like the Red Sea. It felt like it anyway. I just wanted to make sure I got it to him.”
Irving: “We had a play called (on the big fumble), but in the formation they came out in we had to check it. We got off to a good start, but we have to learn how to put our foot on the gas and not giving teams so many second chances. The way we won the game means a lot. We all had to stick together and face a great Florida State team and come back and win.”

What does it all mean?
That the Wolfpack is bowl-eligible and in control of its own destiny.

Stars of the game
1. Wilson.
2. Greene.
3. Kendall Smith.

Play of the game
Wilson’s touchdown pass to Bryan.

All-time series
FSU leads 21-10.

NCSU: Won 1.
FSU: Lost 1.

Up next
NCSU at Clemson, Nov. 6, TBA
FSU vs. UNC, Nov. 6, TBA

N.C. State students Emily Fronk, Alex Weitzel, Chris Becker and James Trasatto cheer on their classmates after a Wolfpack first down.
  • (Photo by Rob Rowe)
  • N.C. State students Emily Fronk, Alex Weitzel, Chris Becker and James Trasatto cheer on their classmates after a Wolfpack first down.